What if we asked people why they were here on Sunday morning?
Wouldn’t that be something?
Episcopal churches all over the nation, ushers at the doors, smiling like June roses, holding the bulletins, and as each person enters, they ask… “Hey! Why are you here this morning?”
I wonder what people would say….especially if they didn’t hold back.
“Who me? Why, you know me – I’ve been coming here for 35 years. Every Sunday rain or shine. This is my home away from home.”
“Well…we’ve needed to come to church for years but haven’t really wanted to. But…I don’t know, we just feel kind of lonely since the kids moved away. Thought we’d give this a shot.”
“Why am I here this morning? Why’d you ask me that? Don’t you know who I am? My father and grandfather both served here as Sr. Warden multiple times. I was baptized here, got married here, raised my own children here…Why don’t you just do your job and hand me a bulletin – I got to get to my pew before some visitor does.”
Why did I come this morning? Is that what you asked? Well, my spouse made me. I mean don’t get me wrong…it’s a nice enough place, good for the kids, the sermon isn’t too long. Every Sunday we beat the other churches to Abuelos. But…you know all this religious stuff….it’s not really for me.”
Why am I here? Well, tell you the truth – I’m actually Baptist but this is my fourth marriage – and I heard you Episcopalians will take just about anybody.”
Wouldn’t it be something to hear what people might say…especially if they were honest. I wonder if anyone would be so honest as to say…”Why am I here? Well, I want to know God…”
But that’s hard to say isn’t it? Those words can get caught somewhere between the heart and the throat. They can even get stuck there….for years they can get stuck there. Sure, all kinds of other words can make their way out – the pledge of allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner, marriage vows, pleasantries spoken between friends and neighbors, your favorite Robert Frost poem or Bob Dylan lyric - but not “I want to know God.” No, those words – they can get stuck. Sometimes people die with those words stuck, never spoken, never even whispered in a prayer. Go to any cemetery, walk around, be quiet, and you might even hear some of those unspoken words begin to mumble beneath the surface. It’s hard to say those words…
Why do you think it’s so hard to say those words? Why can it be so difficult for us to say, “I want to know God.”?
Maybe it’s because we’re so self-sufficient. Or at least, raised to think that we’re supposed to be – and to want to know God in such a way, on some level, must mean we’re not cutting the mustard, it must mean somehow that we are not enough…
“Nope. Nope. Nope. I’m an educated and responsible adult. I should be able to figure this out on my own….” And we wipe away the tears, put on more make-up, buy a new suit or a new car, dive into a murder mystery or a bottle of single-malt.
Could be it’s hard to say those words because we don’t think we actually can know God. What if ol’ Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and all those other guys carrying around their gun powder and copies of Plutarch, Locke, and Montesquieu – what if they’re right and God can’t really be known – like a clockmaker who spun the world into existence and closed shop – but he gave you reason, the internet, and inalienable rights – so just make the best of it.
Or even starker, maybe the Nietzschean headlines are true “God is dead and the Church killed Him” and this life really is “a will to power and nothing more” so dance with Dionysus or iron out your Superman cape – your choice – “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em and get while the gettins good.”
Of course, it’s around this time we have kind-hearted, well intentioned people say “Wait a minute! You can know God. Look around…there’s not a single corner of creation that doesn’t point to God. Crickets serenading a summer night, leaves on their courses in an autumn wind, a winter moon casting its light across a snowy field, and the palate of colors at a Farmer’s Market in Spring. Have you ever stared at a Van Gough painting, ever listened to Yoyo Ma play Bach’s Cello Suites, or heard Bill Evans walk his fingers across a piano? Remember your Psalms, “The heavens speak of God’s glory. The rivers clap and sing their songs. In his hands are the caverns of the earth. Even Paul said in Romans 1 we can see it, we can all see it everywhere, so no one has excuse.”
But that’s not what we’re talking about is it? We’re not talking about witnessing a creative hand at work in the world – we’re not just talking about “believing in God” that’s not satisfying. Plus, there’s plenty of people who love to believe in God and then deny God’s love to other people…we want to know God, to know what God is like, to know God’s relationship to us – but it’s hard to say that.
Which is why it’s so wonderous that Philip said it….maybe he said it for all of us. That’s one of the beautiful things about the Scriptures. People say things in it that we have yet to find the courage to say for ourselves and we can find ourselves standing right alongside of them, nodding our heads in agreement.
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, so we may be satisfied.” Which was just his very Hebrew way of saying, “We want to know God.” And it makes sense that he would demand such a thing because it’s right after Jesus told them he was leaving them, that he was going to die. He told them he was going to prepare a place for them and that they knew this place; and Thomas said, “No we don’t. How about a map, Jesus?” And Jesus said, “I am the map.”
And that’s when Philip, you and I, and the rest of us all pipe up “Show us Lord. We want to know God – then we’ll be satisfied.”
You want to know God? Where have all of you been this whole time?
Weren’t you there when the lame man picked up his mat and skipped away from the beggars corner? Weren’t you there when the blind man saw sunlight shooting through the trees for the first time? Remember when we fed all those people? Remember when Lazarus stumbled out of his tomb?
And we say, “Yes…yes…but not just miracles. You can’t hang your hat on a miracle. People are suspicious of miracles. We need something more…”
So, Jesus gets off the couch, grabs a towel and water basin, rolls up his sleeves and washes our feet.
And we say, “No…no…not this… this isn’t enough - show us God. We want to know God.”
Jesus, then takes up a cross, makes his way to Golgotha, abandoned by his friends, feeling the forsakenness of all things, and from the cross says to Mary and his beloved friend John – “Mother behold your son, and son behold your mother.” Even from the cross, even in the midst of his suffering – we see him creating a new community, new bonds of affection, and love.
You see, they didn’t know then and sometimes we forget – that to see Jesus, to watch him heal, and feed, and forgive, and suffer and die for the love of the world is to know God.
And that’s not even the end – we don’t have to close the book yet. Because they remembered, and we remember today when he told them “I’m going to send a Companion – I’m going to send my Spirit, I won’t leave you as orphans. You’re going to do all I have done and more.”
All he has done and more. Heal, and feed, and forgive, and suffer, and die for the love of the world.
But how? How? When this world is so full of pain and trouble and as one poet said, “a lonely so great you can see it in the slow movements of the hands of a clock…”
How can we find the strength and the wisdom to heal, to feed, to forgive, to suffer and die for the love of the world?
Show us…show us, Lord. We want to know God. Amen.